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A Santa Maria story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
Daphne took a quick gulp from her third glass of wine for the evening. She stood in her robe at the French doors of her living room and looked out across the moonlit garden, staring at the sparkling of the stars mirrored in the reflecting pool. She took another drink of wine and then began to reread the letter that had been delivered to her office earlier that day.
If you truly are now a mother, as you say, then you do have the capacity to do what must be done. By now, you know that something has murdered me; a surprise in the dark has ended me and this letter is the last counsel I can give you. You must heed it. If the city dies, so does its avatar, and with the avatar's death comes the death of your son Mackenzie. This is no threat or attempt at emotional extortion. It is simply the truth of the matter.
For some time now, I have known I was to be murdered by a dark beast, and as I have seen these kinds of things played out over the years, I also knew there was nothing I could to do to stop it; one way or another the darkness coming for Santa Maria would have found a way. I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me, but I had to ensure that you would be tied to Santa Maria; that you could not just take your boys and leave. I know in my heart of hearts that you are the only one who can vanquish this coming darkness. You are the only one who can save Kyle, Joel, and Mackenzie. As you are now a mother, I know that you will do the right thing because any mother would put their children before them and sadly, that is what you must do now.
She walked from the doors to the couch, placed the letter on the glass coffee table, and curled up on the couch. She finished her wine and put the glass next to the letter.
Rodina, I could kill you if you weren't already dead. You hope your letter from the grave will shame me into forgoing my mortality all you want, but it is not going to happen. I will find another way to save Santa Maria.
"Mom?" The call come from her oldest son Mackenzie.
"In the living room, sweetie," she answered back. She fussed with her robe to make sure it was snug and covering everything. Mackenzie entered the room and took a seat across from his mother.
"Hi, Mom. I just wanted to let you know I've checked the prison below the city, and none of the orbs are empty or appeared in a weakened or compromised state. Whatever this evil that Rodina warned you about is, I can assure you it isn't coming from the prison." He glanced down and then asked "Is that the letter she sent you? I should read it. It may give me a better idea of what to be prepared for." He reached for the paper on the coffee table.
Daphne snatched the letter away. "No, it's personal, Mackenzie. Besides, I read to you all the important parts about the darkness that is apparently coming to consume us all."
"Okay, no need to get testy, Mom." He threw his hands up in surrender. "Are you sure she left no clue as to who killed her, even though she knew it was going to happen?"
"Yes, yes. She just called it a 'dark beast'. Nothing else helpful, I swear." Daphne's frustration was apparent.
"Okay." Mackenzie's brow furrowed. "This is so odd. I wish she had said something to me or Rod. The council can't really act on what little there is here. Of course they are going to investigate her murder, but everyone is busy running around trying to capture and send over these errant ghosts left over from the Wight's plans."
Daphne was clearly displeased at her son's mention of the Wight. "Oh don't talk about that. I hate ghosts. Always have. I feel like there's one here half the time. It's so unnerving."
"Do you want me to have some Ghost Lords come over and check things out?"
"No, Mackenzie. It's just stress. I have a lot on my plate right now. I'm worried about Joel. I'm worried about this message from Rodina. I'm worried about having to defend myself against the council because I found Rodina dead," she said, counting off the worries on her fingers. "There is just so much going on right now."
"It's okay, Mom. I know your instinct is to protect me because I'm your son, but I promise it's all right to lean on me. I'm the avatar of the city, after all. I can take it." His tone and expression both showed that he was earnest.
Daphne met his gaze steadily, her expression firm. "Don't remind me. I don't need to a shoulder to cry on." She looked away, sighing wearily. "What I need is to solve this problem and then get back to helping Joel adjust. He's having problems at school. He's become very aggressive. In fact, I have an appointment with the vice principal tomorrow to discuss Joel's challenges at school. He's been acting out ever since his mother died. I can't blame him, but we have to find a healthy way for him to express his grief."
"Mom, I don't know if it's just grief."
She sat up more. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that there is something going on with the boy, something magical perhaps. I've had the Chatu-mu looking into it for me." Mackenzie paused for a moment to let his mother absorb this news. Then he said gravely, "The next step is bringing Joel to them. Will you allow this?"
"Wait, wait." Daphne's brow furrowed. "Those Ohlone Indians backed out of the council. What right do they have to interfere with this?
"Mom, I asked them to help. I don't represent the Council, I represent the city. They are doing this as a favor to me. And they only left because Rod and the others brought the Ghost Lords back to Santa Maria."
"Spare me the recap." She rolled her eyes. "I know they think all the world's evils are because of the Ghost Lords. Now, what do they think is going on with Joel?"
Mac shook his head. "They don't know. That's why they need to see him. Will you let me take him to them?"
She sighed. "Yes, of course I will. You do what you think is best. I hate that I don't have more time to devote to those boys."
"You're doing fine, mom." Mac stood and walked over to give his mom a hug and kiss on the cheek. "This is hardly the kind of thing Carol Brady or June Cleaver had to deal with," he said, smiling at his mother supportively.
"You're sweet. I should check on the boys." She started to get up.
Mac held up a hand, gesturing to her to stay put. "No, you relax. I'll go up and check on them, mom." He hugged her again and headed upstairs.
Once her son had left the room, Daphne read the letter from Rodina once more.
Calliope sat at table in University Square, a coffee shop on campus. She nursed an iced mint mocha while searching through the sea of students coming and going. Her face lit up when she saw who she was searching for. Brady walked in wearing his signature vest sans shirt, spotted Calliope immediately, and headed over.
She smiled up at him. "Hi. I took the liberty of getting your usual. I hope you don't mind?"
"Of course not," he said as he took a seat. "That was pretty exciting this afternoon, huh?" Brady had a big smile on his face.
"Perhaps a little too exciting," she replied. "I know it seems fun and adventurous to you, but these spirits are very dangerous and we are lucky to have such talented Ghost Lords here to deal with it."
"Like you!" Brady continued to beam at her.
"No, not like me. I'm just a beginning apprentice, and besides that, I wasn't chosen as a Ghost Lord for my skills with controlling the restless dead."
His smile diminished a little. "What do you mean? I though all Ghost Lords are good at that. I mean, that's why they're Ghost Lords, right?"
"Well, no. This isn't something I should get into much; secrets and all. But Ghost Lords have duties after death as well. Some people are born with strong souls and these people are often recruited to be Ghost Lords. We train our whole lives for what will come after we die."
Her use of "we" did not escape Brady. "Wait, you're saying you are one of these people?"
Shyly, she answered, "Yes, I am a Micans Animus."
"A strong soul. Must be why I like you so much." His smile returned to full force.
Calliope blushed. "Drink your latte before it melts."
Brady leaned across the table and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back.
"Let's get out of here," he said.
"Okay, where do you want to go?" They stood and gathered their beverages.
"I think we should go look at the stars."
"Brady, you can barely see the stars in the city," Calliope teased gently.
"I know. I've been practicing Skipping with another person. I can take you up to the cliffs above the ocean. The view should be beautiful from there."
"Okay, let's do it."
The two left University Square hand in hand.
Rodrigo slammed his fist onto the table.
"Rod, calm down!"Ant said, trying to be reassuring. "It's just a preliminary hearing, not even a trial. He can't take Helen from us at this."
Rodrigo's frustration was evident. "This is not exactly a good time to be dealing with this. Rodina has been murdered. Apparently she warned Daphne of some new fucking evil heading into town. She told me this standing over Rodina's body. Yeah, did I mention Daphne looks guilty as hell? She's not going to have time to help us keep Helen. She's going to have to face an inquiry of the Council Dictum. I'm tired of every time I turn around something turns to shit. I can't lose any more people. I can't. I won't!" Tears started streaming down his cheeks. Ant pulled Rodrigo to him tight, his arms crossed across his back. Rod sobbed into Ant's shoulder.
"I know. I know. We will find away to get through all of this. All of it." Ant held Rod close and the two of them vanished from the room.
They reappeared far above the city, perched on its highest point. The night air was a bit chilly from the wind blowing in from the Pacific.
Rodrigo lifted his head, sensing the teleportation, and looked around, taking in the view: the twinkling stars above the lights of Santa Maria and the dark of the ocean to the west.
Rodrigo smiled slightly at his paramour and exclaimed, "We're on top of Auttenberg Tower, again." He kissed Ant. "You are such a show off!" A bit of a laugh escaped from Rod and he gently pushed at his lover.
Ant smiled a toothy grin. "Of course I'm a show off. It's part of my charm, and you love my charm." He poked at Rod's chest playfully. "Besides, what's the use of having a boyfriend who can literally whisk you anywhere with a thought if he doesn't take you to remote, romantic places?"
"True. How about Hawaii next time?"
"Everything has its limits. Besides, I wanted to show you this place. We were interrupted the first time. Now I have a need to show you."Ant walked around to the back of his boyfriend and encircled his waist. "Look out there, Rod. Look at the lights. Each one is a home or a business."
"What about street lights?"
"Okay, and some street lights. My point is, hear under the canopy of the black night and twinkling stars is Santa Maria, and those lights prove that what we have suffered for has been for good. All of those lights down there represent people. People who have still have a home because of what we did. Because of what Bree did. And all the other people that have sacrificed for this place, too. It is our home and we defend it. We defend it for Helen and we defend it for all of those lights out there, Rod." He kissed Rod gently on the neck.
Rod turned in Ant's arms to face him. "I get it. Of course what we do makes a difference, and while I have no idea how we are going to thwart this next threat, I believe in you. In us. I have no idea how we are going to fight off Jackson, either, but that is a far more mundane matter and we are anything but mundane."
"Maybe that's the answer right there, Rod. Maybe we should just magic the problem away. An amnesia potion or some sort of spell or charm. Hell, maybe we can just ward Helen and he won't physically be able to take her."
Rod considered the idea for a moment. "Sure, maybe, but the best person for the job was just murdered."
"Yeah, Rodina was a damn skilled enchantress and very learned about the ways of our world. But she isn't the only one, and ever since you reawakened the power of Santa Maria, we get new people here all the time. Someone here will either be able to help or will know someone who can. You're the steward of the Council Dictum. This is a position people do not take lightly."
"Maybe so, but I-"
Rod was cut short by Brady Skipping into existence on top of Auttenberg Tower.
"Ant! I need your help!" The young boy shouted.
The two lovers broke their embrace and Ant went immediately to Brady.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Ant put his hand on Brady's shoulder to reassure him.
"It's Calliope." Brady gasped, clearly panicking. "I Skipped with her and she didn't reappear with me. I've lost her!"
To be continued...
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2009
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2009